Choosing your Dog: Monks of New Skete Lessons

For the puppy-inclined, The Monks of New Skete’s The Art of Raising a Puppy is an excellent read.

One of the many valuable lessons is How to Select a Puppy.  Picking the right pup from a pack of newborns is often an overwhelming swirl of enthusiasm. The monks give eight simple tips for testing puppies, to help in the selection process.

Of course, lesson #1 is Know Thyself.  Are you looking for a dog to lay next to you while you read or work in the office, who will join you on hikes and x-country ski trips, will help you meet friends and clients in busy social settings?  Knowing your needs helps you focus on what kind of dog you are looking for.

8 Tips for Selecting the Right Puppy

So you’re in a room of 8-week old cuties, and trying to decide which to take home to spend the next 12-15 years with.  How do you decide?  The monks provide some tips for understanding a dog’s temperament and propensity for submissiveness or dominance. That does not mean there are good pups and bad pups, but rather that are different pups for different people.

That’s important to remember. You may select a submissiveness pup because you believe that dog will be less challenging. But if you don’t provide the proper training, even a submissive pup will seek out a leader, and maybe appoint him or herself the job if you’re not up to it. The tips are guidelines, not foolproof predictors of who your dog will be.

And remember puppy testing is best done at seven weeks of age. That’s not always possible, and so it’s important to remember that testing is an indicator rather than a fault-less system.  Use these tips as a structured approach for finding your new pup.

Tips for Evaluating Temperament

Tip 1 – Test for sociability.  Get down on all fours and call your prospective puppy over.

Does the puppy bounce up to you, letting you pet him or her.  That pup is moderately social.

Does the pup come reluctantly, submitting to your touch without much enthusiasm? That pup is showing signs of submissiveness.

Does the pup approach you willingly, jumping up on you?  That dog could have aggressive tendencies.

Tip 2 – Test the pups willingness to accept leadership. Stand and start walking, watching to see if pup follows.

Walk around the room, changing directions.  Does the follow about a foot behind you, wagging its tail. As a grown dog, that doesn’t pull on the leash and try to take you on a walk. What will you need to work on with the pup you select?

Tip 3 – Test the dog’s tendency toward submissiveness or aggression. Get back down on all fours.

Roll the dog on its back and pet him. Does he or she submit, resist but then soon submit, or struggle until freed. I think it’s easy to determine what the differences are here.

Tip 4 – Stand and lift the dog off the ground. Does the pup submit, willingly accepting that you’ve got him, and will not let him go. A dog that lets himself be handled will be much easier to deal with at the groomer’s or vet’s office.

Tips for Evaluating Obedience Aptitude

Tip 5 – Jiggle a crumpled up piece of paper before the puppy, and then toss it about four feet away.

Does the puppy ignore the paper (submissive?), chase the paper and play with it before returning it to you (moderate?), or prance around with the paper (perhaps will need extra work on obedience).

Tip 6 –  Measure the puppy’s tolerance for being handled and withstanding pain. Hold its paw, and slowly apply pressure.  If the puppy yips before three seconds, he or she may need to be handled with care, and perhaps not the best dog for taking to public situations where people will want to pet, hold and play with your dog.  Unless you teach him to trust you and others.

Tip 7 – Test the dog’s tolerance for loud noises.  If you live in the city, the suburbs, or near a firing range, you may want to know how well your grown dog will tolerate loud noises.

Drop a set of sleigh bells or keys behind the pup where he can’t see, and watch his reaction.  Does he investigate, ignore, or run away?

Tip 8 – Test the dog’s sight sensitivity. Place a small piece of cloth on the ground and then pull it away.  Does the dog pounce on it, follow it, or appear timid at its movement.  This test is not about testing the dog’s eyesight, but at how it adapts to strange things in the environment. If you live in an area with a lot of skunks or porcupines, maybe you don’t want a dog that pounces too quickly. If you’re looking for a watchdog, maybe you prefer a dog who does.

I encourage you to read the monks’ book The Art of Raising a Puppy, and even their older book, How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend. Both are great when selecting your new best friend.


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